Reclaim Our Domestic Tranquility: Putting The First Amendment Before the Second Amendment

It's 1791 and people write by candlelight with quill-tipped pens and no one has indoor toilets.

There are only a handful of personal firearms in existence, and they are all complicated to operate. To load a musket, you have to put gunpowder in a pan, put a musket ball down the front of the barrel, and use a ramrod to jam the musket ball down for every single shot. There are many other steps before you can fire this musket, but if you are good at it, you might manage to get off a few shots in a minute.

These are the only personal firearms our Founding Fathers knew when they wrote the Second Amendment in 1791, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Because the musket of 1791 requires so many complex coordinated steps to fire it, one cannot easily shoot someone on impulse or by accident. One person could never kill four or more people before being overpowered, even by unarmed people.

By contrast, modern firearms can be discharged by a flick of a finger, killing people by accident and impulse. Toddlers can operate modern guns, yet they could never have discharged a musket. For this reason, modern guns scare the heck out of so many of us. It is a perfectly rational fear. Yet, one commentator on my last blog wrote, "you don't have a right to not be a scared baby I do have the right to a gun (sic)." A gunman with an easily purchased civilian assault rifle with a high capacity magazine can fire 12-15 times a minute, and keep going 100 times without reloading, and even a highly trained "good guy with a gun" can do little to stop him, as we've seen in Orlando.

Would the Founding Fathers have written something different if they could have imagined modern weapons? If they knew their words are behind the statistics that Americans are ten times more likely to be killed by guns than people of every other developed country? Could the Founders have imagined their words would be a reason why the US now leads the world in firearms per capita and owns 35-50% of all the world's civilian-owned guns?

The Founding Fathers created our constitution in 1789 in part in order to "insure domestic tranquility," after declaring our independence to protect "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." They created the First Amendment to ensure "the right of the people peaceably to assemble." Then they added the Second Amendment.

One reason guns are scary is because of the patchwork of laws in the US regulating who can buy firearms, with very few states requiring a license and some not even requiring a permit. If I knew that everyone carrying a gun were well-trained, responsible, and not prone to angry or impulsive acts, I would not be so scared of guns or people with guns. A number of common mental health conditions -- including certain personality disorders, unmet mental health needs, depression, and substance abuse -- tend to be associated with the high-risk mix of impulsive anger with gun access, according to a 2013 report on gun violence from the American Psychological Association. (See CNN's summary). Research shows that a large number of individuals in the US self-report patterns of impulsive angry behavior AND own firearms at home (8.9%) or carry guns outside the home (1.5%)."Because only a small proportion of persons with this risky combination have ever been involuntarily hospitalized for a mental health problem, most will not be subject to existing mental health-related legal restrictions on firearms." This does not even include people on terrorist watch lists and people associated with hate groups. Ideally there were would be a psychological screening process tailored to potential gun owners to look for these traits and disqualify potential buyers at risk, but at the least, universal background checks and minimal licensure requirements make sense. And, while I can see why some responsible gun owners enjoy using assault rifles, there can be no justifiable reason to purchase magazines over ten rounds.

This is why the sight of guns destroys my domestic tranquility. With so few national restrictions on who can buy and operate these lethal weapons, I do not want to be sitting next to a civilian concealing a gun on their person or openly carrying one. I don't want to live in a society where civilians feel the need to carry a gun. No gun safety class is going to reassure me that a stranger next to me isn't going to accidentally, impulsively, or intentionally fire a gun in my direction.

I don't believe that carrying a gun will make me safer, and statistics sadly bear me out. Research highlighted in the APA report show that women handgun owners have a 55% increased chance of becoming a homicide victim, and gun owners of both genders have much higher suicide rates in the six years after purchase. Only male handgun owners have a lower risk of becoming a homicide victim (by 31%). Very few US gun deaths are at the hands of terrorists. Nearly all of the 13,432 gun violence deaths from 2015 are just from everyday gun owners.

These days, the First and Second Amendments are clearly in conflict. Our nation was founded on the right to domestic tranquility, and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Ten times the gun deaths of every other developed country cannot be what our Founders had in mind when they imagined a peaceful society.

Living in a world where everyone is increasingly armed takes away all those rights, and puts us into a domestic war-zone not of our choosing. The Founders put the First Amendment before the Second Amendment. Let's take back our domestic tranquility and our First Amendment right to peaceful assembly.